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Lions rout Hackley, clinch Ivy League crown tie

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There was a small amount of trepidation on the part of the Horace Mann girls basketball team as they took the court against Ivy League-rival Hackley on Monday afternoon. Well, about as much concern a team riding a 13-game winning streak could have while playing on a home court in which the Lions are unbeaten this season.

The only reason for any anxiousness on Horace Mann’s part was because when the two teams met earlier this season, Hackley scored 31 first-half points and trailed by just two going into the locker room at mid-game.

Of course, the Lions went on to post a comfortable 19-point win that December day, but one could certainly understand them not wanting a repeat performance this time around, especially since a win would clinch a tie for the Ivy League title.

That’s an achievement the Lions haven’t earned in more than two decades.

This time around, however, there was no drama. Sure, Hackley scored the game’s first basket for a very brief lead, but the Lions quickly responded with a 19-2 run and closed out the first quarter leading 19-4.

And if that wasn’t enough to ease any lingering concerns, the Lions upped their cushion to 41-14 by halftime, and Horace Mann was well on its way to a 65-27 victory and securing at least a share of the Ivy title.

But more on that later.

The one-two punch of Ella Anthony (25 points) and Julia Robbins (14), combined with the all-around solid play by Halley Robbins, Olivia Kester and Kate Golub, was far more than Hackley could handle. Which came as somewhat of a surprise to the Lions, who were expecting a much-tighter battle.

“There was concern about this game because we knew we had to win it, and we did it, and we’re super happy about that,” Julia Robbins said. “But we were definitely on edge coming into this game knowing they had done so well in the last game.”

Turns out the Lions need not have worried at all as they played a near-flawless game. One that had head coach Ray Barile singing his team’s praises after the blowout victory.

“That was the best basketball we played all year,” Barile said. “We saved our best for today.”

Unlike the first matchup with Hackley, when the Lions led just 33-31 at the half, Horace Mann’s game plan was to jump on the Hornets early and never let them back in it. Even up by 27 points at intermission, Barile told his team he wanted no slowing down in their second-half play.

“I was really concerned coming into the game,” Barile said. The last time we played them we were losing most of the first half. But today we came out ready to play and we didn’t stop at halftime. I said to the girls, ‘No mercy.’”

The Lions’ lead swelled to 60-17 at the end of the third quarter when Barile emptied his bench while Anthony, the Robbins sisters, Kester and Golub watched the Lions’ reserves have some fun of their own in the rout.

“We wanted to put them away as early as possible,” Julia Robbins said. “A lot of that was due to our ferocity on defense.”

Though the Lions won’t officially clinch the Ivy League crown outright until Saturday with a win over Riverdale, Robbins and Anthony got a little head start enjoying the Lions’ crowning achievement — their first league title in 21 years. Before either of them were born.

“It just feels incredible knowing how long we’ve worked on this,” Julia Robbins said. “We’ve been on the team three years now, and for the seniors, this is their fourth year. And in the other years we played, we were nowhere near close to reaching this goal. So to all of a sudden be Ivy League champions, it’s very exciting.”

So while the coronation has to wait until a victory over Riverdale — and the Lions defeated the Falcons by 35 points in their first meeting — the dream of what might still be to come is what is keeping this Horace Mann machine rolling.

Because this team’s goal extends beyond just that elusive Ivy League championship.

These Lions want to capture the New York State Association of Independent Schools tournament title, which would be a first for the program.

“We want this so bad, every single person on the team,” Anthony said. “We all want to win the Ivy League championship, and then NYSAIS so badly. And I think it shows.”

Robbins thinks if they don’t get too ahead of themselves and continue with their one-game-at-a-time focus, the Lions very well could pull off that title twosome.

“The trust we have with each other is just tremendous,” Robbins said. “At the rate we’re going, I think we’re in really good shape.”

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